St Patrick’s Day

Today is St Patrick’s Day. Its extraordinary that a man born in Roman Britain, which was approximately modern England and Wales, should today be widely recognised as the patron saint of Ireland. St Paddy is a limey?! His feast day is celebrated perhaps even more outside the church than in.

As a young man embarking on my drinking career,  I and my friends felt duty bound to deliver extravagant performances on March 17. This was in England in the late 60s, when Irish-English relations were not great. After a long history of dissent, what passed for peace was in fact no more than an uneasy truce. Still as a budding musician and trainee drunk, I felt no qualms enjoying Guinness, Jameson’s whisky, and the music of the Dubliners and beyond. Neither did great numbers of my countrymen. What did we care of history? The misdeeds of our greedy ancestors did not concern us. Nor in my experience, did they particularly concern Irish people of our age.

From 1982 to 1991, I lived in New York City, from where I have less fond memories of St Paddy’s Day. For the first couple of years of my time there, I scraped a living as a street musician. Imagine my surprise on my first March 17, when I boarded the subway to go play, and was confronted with armies of drunk young folks, dressed in green, and sporting badges demanding, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”, and the like. Barely 10am and already whacked, and many of them no more Irish than me or the Pope. Our attempts to play music were continually thwarted by falling down drunks bellowing and charging among us. We soon gave up and retired home.

More recently I remember being asked to play music in an Irish friends pub here in Cambridge. I assembled a gang of suitable players, violins and whistles and all, and we had a grand old time. The highlight of the evening though was when a group of young Irish children came into the pub with their instruments and proceeded to show us how it was done. In particular a young girl fiddler and a boy accordionist were dazzlingly accomplished, by any standards. They played a few tunes, to riotous acclaim, passed the hat, and were gone like the wind.

I have more or less retired undefeated from competitive drinking. But this evening I look forward to going to a favourite pub, buying my American son a pint, and celebrating with Pete Newman, the great sax and clarinet player, whose birthday also falls on this day. I shall once again ask him how he feels sharing this date with the great saint. His answer is different each year.

And I shall enjoy a tall glass of bubbly water. Your health, good luck, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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